Posted by on June 23, 2022 3:35 pm
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Alexa to feature imitations of real people’s voices

In this Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, photo a child holds his Amazon Echo Dot in Kennesaw, Ga. Amazon updated its voice assistant with a feature that can make Alexa more kid-friendly. When the FreeTime feature is activated, Alexa answers certain questions differently. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Alexa to feature imitations of real people’s voices

Jenny Goldsberry June 23, 02:31 PMJune 23, 02:31 PM Video Embed

Amazon announced an update to its Alexa digital assistant to feature imitations of the voices of owners’ loved ones.

Amazon’s announcement came during its re:MARS 2022 conference, which began Tuesday and continues through Friday in Las Vegas. Senior Vice President and Head Scientist Rohit Prasad was there to explain that the integration of a new voice could take as little as a minute of Alexa listening to it speak.

“The way we made it happen is by framing the problem as a voice conversion task and not a speech generation path,” Prasad said.

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Prasad explained that this is an example of “generalizable intelligence” versus artificial intelligence. He claimed that integrating “human attributes of empathy and effect” would help users trust the digital assistant more.

“These attributes have become even more important during the ongoing pandemic when so many of us have lost ones that we love,” Prasad said. “While AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been moving in the opposite direction, recently restricting its own custom neural voice technology.

“This technology has exciting potential in education, accessibility, and entertainment, and yet it is also easy to imagine how it could be used to inappropriately impersonate speakers and deceive listeners,” Microsoft’s AI Ethics Division Chief Officer Natasha Crampton wrote in a blog post.

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Most recently, Microsoft began phasing out its facial recognition software by requiring that customers apply to use it.

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